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Sometime in the coming weeks, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley’s quest to bar secret settlements in cases involving a public danger will go before the California Assembly. That the bill is even headed for a floor vote is a tribute to the tenacity of the Agoura Hills Democrat. Similar bills have been smothered in committee — the last attempt, Sen. Martha Escutia’s SB 11, died four years ago without a single floor vote. But Pavley’s determination may not be enough to move the bill out of the Assembly and into the Senate. “We know the reality,” said Debra Gravert, Pavley’s chief of staff. “Obviously, we haven’t reached the magic number yet, and I think we’re going to have great difficulty reaching that magic number.” What haunted Escutia’s bill and what could kill AB 1700 is formidable opposition from the state’s business and tech industries, who say they fear the measure will result in the revelation of trade secrets and other proprietary information that gets disclosed in discovery. The bill would prohibit confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements that stem from suits over public dangers — such as faulty tires or molesting priests. Secrecy would still be permitted under certain circumstances, with a judge’s permission and when there is an “overriding interest” in maintaining confidentiality. The bill says that only the part of a trade secret that specifically posed a public danger would be subject to disclosure. AB 1700 opponents, which include the California Association of Health Care Facilities, the California Retailers Association, several large pharmaceutical companies and TechNet, an industry and lobbyist group of CEOs representing the technology industry, have been making the rounds, hoping to persuade 11 so-called “mod squad” members — moderate Assembly Democrats — to oppose the measure. Mod Squadders include Latino Caucus members from urban districts reluctant to support bills that might discourage job-creating businesses. Having Speaker Fabian Nu�ez on board could help move AB 1700, but even if he personally likes the legislation, he may be reluctant to move fence sitters on a bill that’s not a top priority, say capitol insiders. “There isn’t the momentum to get this moving,” predicts AB 1700 opponent Erika Frank, legislative advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce. “This one is very, very dicey for legislators,” observed Elisa Odabashian, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, which is supporting the bill. “It scares the bejesus out of business and unfortunately, the way you get elected is by courting business.” Bill supporters, including the Consumers Union, the Consumer Attorneys of California, the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, have largely left lobbying on the bill to Pavley, a sincere, personable lawmaker who managed to get new greenhouse gas standards for the state passed in 2003. “Fran Pavley is very tenacious,” said Don Green, a longtime Consumer Attorneys lobbyist. “She is one of the very, very best authors in the building. She’s careful and she does a tremendous amount of work personally on her bills in terms of talking to her colleagues. I would never count her out.” But capitol insiders acknowledge that Pavley has a long way to go to convince her fellow members that AB 1700 adequately safeguards proprietary information and in fact, is limited to only those cases involving products that have, or are likely to cause “significant” or “substantial” injury. Gravert said a group of about 25 opponents, representing technology and other business groups showed up to meet with Pavley the night before AB 1700 had its hearing before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, overwhelming Pavley’s staff, who had expected to meet with just one or two opponents. Gravert said the meeting failed to create common ground. “It was one of those meetings where, when we left, we agreed to disagree,” Gravert said. Though Pavley has amended her bill to tighten the restrictions on the release of trade secrets, the opposition won’t budge, Gravert said. Ultimately, Pavley might have to amend her bill to see it survive a floor vote. One plan calls for removing most of the bill’s provisions, with the exception of a ban on secret settlements in child molestation cases. Gravert said that idea has already been proposed, but Pavley is holding out for the pending version. “I think Ms. Pavley would be very, very hard-pressed to just easily give up on a bill that is protecting, not only people from needless injury, but people from dying,” said Gravert. “It’s just really hard for her to swallow, so I think she is going to fight as hard as she can.”

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